Advocating for Basic Food Security

An elderly woman eating soup sitting at a table in the house.

Recently, the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services weighed in on changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility rules proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their proposal would negatively affect 3.6 million families nationwide and cause more than 620,000 older adults to lose nutrition benefits. The change would have devasting consequences in Seattle-King County.

As the consumer board for King County’s Area Agency on Aging, our Advisory Council serves as the “eyes and ears” of the community. We know the pivotal role that nutrition plays in creating healthy, safe, and productive communities. When basic needs are met, our people, neighborhoods, and economies thrive. We see better health outcomes, long and engaged lives, and remarkable contributions to society.

We have also seen the debilitating effects of food insecurity—delayed development and academic underperformance in young children, mental and behavioral issues, chronic disease, unemployment, and premature death. Since community health and vitality is intrinsically tied to food affordability and availability, we need more common-sense investments to support, not pare down, nutrition programs.

The proposed change would terminate SNAP’s “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which allows categorical (reciprocal) eligibility for multiple income-support programs. This has allowed families to stay enrolled in SNAP rather than be disqualified if they are even $1 per month over eligibility limit. In turn, this allows low-income households to save money for emergencies, future education, or unexpected necessities. It allows workers to pursue higher-paying jobs or promotions while maintaining food assistance, until their net income rises above the poverty line. It allows families to pay utilities, rent, child and medical care costs, and other important bills without giving up a meal. The proposed change would fully eliminate an important safety net that allows people living at the poverty line to achieve upward economic mobility.

The USDA estimates that more than 13 percent of all SNAP households with older adults would lose benefits under the proposed rule. Of the approximately 4.7 million older adults currently enrolled in SNAP, some 620,000 would lose benefits that help them fulfill basic nutritional needs. Without adequate nutrition, there is higher risk of negative health outcomes and higher medical costs.

How the proposal would affect Washington state

In Washington state, just over 1,003,000 people (including 123,560 elderly individuals and 198,731 individuals with disabilities) benefit from SNAP/Basic Food. More than 176,000 people would lose SNAP benefits under the proposed rule change, including almost 39,000 older people and adults with disabilities. See these numbers and more in “State-by-State Impact of Proposed Changes to ‘Broad-Based Categorial Eligibility’ in SNAP.” In Washington state, monthly SNAP/Basic Food benefits for one person range from $15 to $189.

Our Advisory Council urged the USDA to drop their proposed change. Not only is it cruel; the proposed change is shortsighted and would introduce a tremendous financial burden on the very people we should be empowering.

Food insecurity a growing Aging Network issue

At the September 2019 Senior Lobby meeting in Olympia, Food Lifeline’s Aaron Czyzewski shared that nearly 40 percent of food grown and processed in the United States ends up in landfills, yet food insecurity is growing. Food Lifeline provides 116,000 meals daily. They sourced 51,000,000 pounds of food last year.

Nutrition programs are challenged by the number of older people who now qualify for food assistance. They are worried about their continued ability to help older people access affordable and healthy food, particularly as we await reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and related appropriations.

In the meantime, we remain committed to helping older people meet their nutritional needs. Thanks to federal and state support, Aging and Disability Services is able to fund dozens of community meal sites as well as emergency meals and home-delivered meals, provide transportation to meal sites, and promote Basic Food/SNAP, Fresh Bucks, and farm-to-table initiatives. For services, call Community Living Connections (toll-free) at 1-844-348-5464.

Ava FrisingerContributor Ava Frisinger chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. She welcomes input from readers via e-mail ( as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of AgeWise King County.